The Brief – Opting out of opt-outs

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Hardships are almost always easier to bear when there’s a “we’re all in the same boat” philosophy at work. But the EU struggles with that mantra and now its lawmakers want to bolt the stable door.

‘Multi-speed Europe’, ‘Europe à la carte’, ‘second class membership’ are all terms that have been used to describe the same Orwellian concept: all member states are equal but some are more equal than others.

Notable examples include the UK, and by extension Ireland, and the Schengen passport-free travel zone. As well as Denmark and monetary policy, defence and justice.

One could also argue that the UK’s toxic rebate, calculated every seven years as part of the overall budget, is also an opt-out of sorts, as Britain continues to opt out of being an equal member of the Union.

MEPs confirmed last week that they are dead against any sort of cherry-picking policy, when they passed a resolution on the issue.

Lawmakers insist that although they want permanent derogations to be scrapped, they are not opposed to initiatives like enhanced cooperation, where countries that want to do more, can do more.

Opt-outs are bad optics.

But the days of freebies do seem over, especially given the UK’s scheduled departure at the end of March.

MEPs want to use that momentous shift to convince everyone to opt in and comply with all the EU’s primary laws. Even if it does mean tinkering with the Treaties…

Maybe gloss over the fact for now that the obligatory unanimous voting needed to amend the Treaties means that it would be a bit ‘turkeys voting for Christmas’.

In a vague part of the resolution, it’s suggested that nations that do not want to commit fully to primary EU law would be offered “some form of partnership” with the EU.

Whether that is only a reference to aspirational members like Montenegro and Serbia, or a potentially seismic threat against current club members remains to be seen.

The EU isn’t fair and it’s partly because of this two-tiered structure that has been allowed to develop over time.

Allowing opt-outs from Schengen when countries like Bulgaria and Romania are knocking ever louder at the door is not on. Neither is using the term ‘single currency’ for something that really isn’t anything of the sort.

Expect this particular bone of contentious to stick around, particularly at the Future of Europe summit in May. Leaders will have to decide what that future really looks like.

The Roundup

France’s data authority pulled a Vestager and hit Google with a €50 million fine, under new GDPR rules.

In Aachen, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel put pen to paper on a new bilateral treaty. Whether that means the future of the EU has been decided by two member states will remain to be seen…

The race to succeed Mario Draghi as the eurozone’s head banker is well and truly underway: Ireland’s Philip Lane has thrown his hat into the ring already.

Batteries are the future of mobility, especially if you ask Japanese giants Panasonic and Toyota that are now teaming up to take on the Chinese and Elon Musk.

Fresh from Davos, one of the world’s leading consultants said that tensions between China and the US will continue. A workforce talent gap is increasing globally, according to a study.

Business leaders though are not worried about China’s lowest growth in three decades and remain confident about the Middle Kingdom’s economic future.

Romania’s ongoing plans to grant corruption amnesty to political figures continues to stir up the Commission, which warned Bucharest against following through on its ideas.

Look out for…

Our EU election ticker is live all the way up to May and beyond. Juncker is set for a working lunch with former Commission boss Romano Prodi. Unclear if mortadella will be on the menu

Views are the author’s

Edited by Benjamin Fox and Sam Morgan

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